A mother faces her child’s congenital heart condition in this debut book.
Mayer opens her work in December 1984, when she and her husband, Helmut, received alarming news about their only child, Marc, a mere 13 days after his birth. The jarring title came from the mouth of a cardiologist who gravely and insensitively assessed Marc’s prognosis at the beginning of their journey. Mayer, aghast, remembers thinking, “Incompatible with nature? What did that mean? Was I some kind of monster? How do you look a mother in her face and utter such a thing?” What sets this memoir apart is the author’s distinct sense of cultural displacement as an African-American woman living in Germany with a rudimentary grasp of the language at best. Consequently, a situation that was already stressful became even more exasperating as she struggled to communicate with medical professionals. Mayer, however, is courteous to her readers: on the few occasions when German is not directly translated into English, she provides enough context clues to convey the message in a comfortable and unobtrusive manner. Critically, her family in the Seattle area lent great support despite the distance, whether on the phone or through inherited refrains that Mayer invoked in times of crisis, such as “ain’t no givin’ up and no givin’ out” or “let go and let God.” These examples are indicative of the linguistic richness to be found throughout the text. There are also moments of humor despite the heavy subject matter, including this gem from the author’s mother that Mayer suddenly recalled during an awkward silence after she questioned the head doctor’s account of the treatments Marc had received on a particular day: “It’s so quiet you can hear a mouse piss on cotton.” Beyond the chronological reporting in this testament to a parent’s strength, the author shares lessons learned as a child and young adult via poignant flashbacks, especially regarding her relationship with her father. Thus, in addition to recounting harrowing events surrounding Marc’s condition, she allows herself space to reflect on philosophical notions like the slippery nature of time: “Out of reach, uncontrollable, too much and never enough, indeed it is too often the most mangled thread in the fabric of our human existence.”
A parent’s inspiring memoir, full of love, humor, and heartache.